In every industry you have to have trailblazers. One’s that are able to as Jay-Z said about Kanye, to take the criticism and arrows before the others conquer what the goal is.
In music especially with Blacks that person has been Quincy Jones.
“What’s interesting about Quincy is at each phase, each state of his remarkable career, he’s been the first. He’s been somebody who’s walked through that door before anybody else has, and that’s given people behind him enormous confidence.
And he’s done it with grace” – Pres. Barack Obama
Last night I watched the Netflix documentary Quincy which was directed by his daughter Rashida Jones and it takes an inside look into the life and music of Mr. Jones.
Many know about his collaborations with Michael Jackson but his foray into pop music happened way before Off The Wall or Thriller.
He first worked with 16 year old Lesley Gore producing not only the No. 1 hit It’s My Party but cumulative selling four million singles.
A year later he began his journey as a composer with The Pawnbroker. At the time there was doubt that a Black man could even compose for white film.
Hailing from the South Side of Chicago in the 30s he wanted to be a gangster until he was 11.
His mother had a mental illness and was taking in a straightjacket leading his father to move to Washington.
Then after breaking into a naval armory he found a piano and after tinkling with it he realized this was destiny.
After joining Lionel Hampton & Dizzy Gillespie as a trumpet player he ventured out on his on with The Jones Boys employing 18 artists.
This documentary did a great job of chronicling different eras of his life.
He’s done a great job of documenting his life whether it’s in depth records of how much he got paid for arrangements varying from $12 to $20 which seemed low but he was happy because he wasn’t starving.
The first person who gave him a break as an arranger was Dinah Washington. Their success together gave way to him becoming an in demand talent. As he said “after that, work started to flow”.
Being a student of the game his obsession with music lead him to French composer Nadia Boulanger.
“In Paris I did 200 sessions with huge string sections; I wrote for strings until it came out of my ears”.
Which would later help later when he went into composing.
He’s done so much great things musically but he’s also a survivor.
He’s had an icepick put to his head as an 11 year old and at just 7 his hand was stabbed to a fence with a switchblade.
At arguably the height of the career he suffered a brain aneurism and after surgery the doctor found another one.
He’s known as workaholic leading the dissolution of his marriage and a nervous breakdown.
Later on in life he’s had to continue to fight. It seems his demons with alcohol caught up with him and had him in a diabetic coma for four days. Then because of his lack of exercise and a jam-packed travel schedule he was hospitalized with blood clots.
“You only live 26,000 days…And if I get to 80, that’ll be 29,000. I’m gonna wear them all out, they’re gonna know we came I here”
His father is the one who instilled a great work ethic stating “Once a task is just begun, never leave it till it’s done. Be the labor great or small, do it well or not a all’.
This can be seen as the mantra to describe Q’s life.
“I know it’s a sickness and it’s disease or you know, a workaholic but that’s the only way I know”
There’s so many lessons I learned in Quincy and just how much he’s accomplished.
Quincy Jones is hard to put in a musical category. His most recent production of Michael Jackson’s hit album Off The Wall was a smash success. It sold over eight million copies and got award upon award.
After arranging and composing he also went into producing for movies.
I knew he was a composer but I had no idea he co-produced The Color Purple.
The Color Purple is one of the greatest films in cinema and truly changed the culture.
As a producer during casting he discovered Oprah Winfrey leading to her billion dollar empire and an Oscar nomination.
He was the one who convinced Steven Spielberg to direct making the great point that “You didn’t have to go to Mars to make ET”.
I also learned that not only was QDIII, his son, into hip hop but he used his platform to empower.
Back on the Block bridged the gap between bebop and hip hop pairing Kool Moe Dee, Ice T, Big Daddy Kane and Melle Mel with Ella Fitzgerald, Ray Charles and Miles Davis.
“There’s a kinship between hip hop and bebop I can feel it. And that’s why I tried the fusion of the two and it was so natural.”
What’s great about Quincy Jones is he is never satisfied. Instead of resting on his laurels he’s continued to push and breakdown boundaries. While there was The Source he created VIBE which was a hip hop periodical and Qwest Broadcasting Company, “one of the largest minority-controlled broadcasting groups” was the launching pad for Will Smith’s acting career with The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air.
In addition to all of his accomplishments there’s a sobering reality of dealing with trauma and also with aging and death.
When the East Coast/West Coast rivalry was at it’s highest he set up a hip hop symposium inviting Colin Powell to speak to the likes of Dr. Dre, Puff Daddy and Suge Knight and gave an impassioned speech longing for them all to live as long as he is.
With NMAAHC as the backdrop he’s seen reflecting with Billy Dee Williams explaining they need to hang out and later on when visiting the museum’s exhibit on music he’s truly affected.
His name is listed alongside Ray Charles, Prince, Michael Jackson and Duke Ellington
“Damn, all of them dead. It’s frightening. Beautiful people.”
Quincy is a legend.
Winning 27 Grammys he’s the second most awarded and has contributed to the best selling album of all time, Thriller.
Whether it’s philanthropy building 100 homes in Africa with Habitat for Humanity, speaking to the UN about eradicating extreme poverty or empowering Oprah and Will Smith he’s truly made the most of his 31000 days.